Virtual reference services: Implementation of professional and ethical standards

Pnina Shachaf
2008 Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology  
Virtual reference, which allows users to connect easily with librarians online, is becoming popular. Librarians answer thousands of questions every day over the Internet. As the service matures, professional associations publish standards that provide professional guidelines to improve the quality of the services. This article focuses attention on the quality of these eservices in light of professional and ethical standards in the field. It examines the extent to which librarians adhere to
more » ... ssional and ethical guidelines and the role that virtual reference plays in providing services to diverse user groups. First, it discusses adherence to the professional standards and shows that the professional behaviors of librarians vary depending on user, institution, and request types. Then, it discusses the extent to which librarians provide equitable online reference services to diverse users groups and the inconsistent findings from empirical research. Adherence to Professional Standards Evaluation of virtual reference services has been the focus of recent studies; however, many of these evaluations have been anecdotal in nature, and more studies that are empirical need to be conducted. Although some researchers argue that new methods and measures of evaluation are needed, some methods from traditional (in person) reference evaluation are useful for evaluating virtual reference. A major concern in the evaluation of reference services evolves around the variables that should be measured. Evaluations of traditional reference services have investigated the types of questions asked, the accuracy, completeness, and usefulness of the information provided by a reference librarian, assessed user satisfaction, and examined the behavior of librarians. Evaluations of virtual reference services utilize similar measures and have examined, for example, the type of questions, accuracy, completeness, usefulness of the service, and user satisfaction. In an effort to help librarians improve user-librarian interaction, both the American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) (2004) and the International Federation of Library Associations' (IFLA) Reference and Information Services Section (2007) have established professional guidelines as standards to assure service quality. RUSA originally published the Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers for traditional reference services, and later modified it to include instructions for both in person and remote reference services. These guidelines focus on five areas: approachability, interest, listening/ inquiring, searching, and follow up. Similarly, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) (2007) has recently published a set of guidelines that relies partially on RUSA's (2004) guidelines but focuses solely on digital reference. These guidelines address the needs of library administrators as well as practicing librarians and include two sections. The first focuses on the administration of digital reference services and was written with the responsibilities of program administrators in mind; the second, focuses on the practice of digital reference and provides guidance for the practitioner of digital reference. The standards for practitioners focus on four areas. The first, general guidelines advise
doi:10.1002/bult.2008.1720340207 fatcat:pqut3calz5eajcwwaxyqjblgmi